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Upon opening the box, the immediate impression is of a nice looking camera. It is stylish without being too flashy, with a strong all-metal case finished in matt black with chrome trim. Build quality is excellent, with a good close fit between the body panels and controls. The card/battery hatch on the underside is plastic, but it has a spring-loaded metal hinge and a good secure latching action. The tripod bush is plastic, but it is quite a hard plastic and is centrally mounted for optimum support. The A30 is equipped with Pentax’s Sliding Lens System, so the lens retracts completely flush with the body, giving the camera a very pocket-friendly profile.
The control layout is nice and simple, with just three buttons, the D-pad and the zoom control on the back panel, leaving a small textured area for your thumb. Despite the small size, smooth shape and the lack of any sort of finger grip the A30 is surprisingly secure to hold. The controls include Pentax’s popular Green Button feature, which has a default setting of full idiot-mode auto, but this can be changed in the menu for a number of useful functions. All the main shooting modes are found, logically enough, on the Mode button, the down button of the D-pad. These include a shorter than usual list of just 10 scene modes, including all the usual favourites (landscape, portrait, night portrait, sport, snow & beach etc.) however several of them have sub-divisions when selected. For example the Portrait mode has a sub-setting for kids, while the Pets mode has sub-settings for light, mid-tone and dark coloured animals. It also has sub-settings for cats and dogs, although a Pentax spokesman did confirm that actually these are identical, just with different icons. Naturally the Mode selection also includes the wonderfully dreadful Frame Composite mode, but then I’d be kind of disappointed if it didn’t.
One unusual mode for a pocket compact is found as a sub-setting of program mode. The A30 has shutter priority and full manual exposure settings, which will be welcomed as creative tools by more experienced photographers. Only minimum or maximum apertures can be selected, but the full range of shutter speeds, 4 secs to 1/2000th, are available.
The A30 is equipped with the same CCD-shift image stabilisation system that Pentax uses in its K100D and K10D digital SLRs, with the same results. It’s a very good system, and reliably produces up to three stops of extra low-speed stability. I found I was able to take shake-free hand-held shots at the maximum telephoto setting (114mm equiv.) at shutter speeds as low as 1/10th of a second, which is a pretty impressive performance. The marketing blurb promises “Three types of shake reduction”, but like most marketing that’s a bit ambiguous. What it has, apart from the excellent CCD-shift system, is a “Digital SR” mode which merely sets a high ISO sensitivity to produce faster shutter speeds, which is usually best avoided since it produces more image noise.